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LCN Says

Extenuating circumstances in applications

updated on 25 June 2019

All kinds of unfortunate things beyond our control can happen to put normal life on hold. Illness, bereavement, family problems - all are likely to affect every one of us at some point. Yet when disaster strikes, everything else seems to carry on as usual and it is easy to worry about being left behind. When the worst happens for someone on the intensely demanding and competitive path to a career in law, it can badly affect their studies and results, as well as prevent them from pursuing work experience opportunities – all of which are of course serious disadvantages when applying for a training contract or pupillage.

This is why it is so important to inform employers, universities and so on when you have genuine mitigating circumstances which have affected your academic performance. This can be difficult - an applicant who has suffered a serious illness may, understandably, be uncomfortable about telling recruiters whom they’ve never met about something so personal. Meanwhile, in the cases of some law firms that use automated application screening systems, any bad grades that could be a result of extenuating circumstances may mean that a candidate’s application is screened out before it is ever read by a human being.

So how should you go about making your course provider or potential employer aware of any genuine extenuating circumstances that have affected your application? When something has happened beyond your control, you should contact the recruitment team at the firm you want to apply to and enquire about how best to display any extenuating circumstances in an application, in the event that this information is not on the firm’s website. Keep it professional and matter of fact - you don’t have to disclose every detail and many people would feel uncomfortable revealing that much.

The reaction you get could differ from employer to employer; some might not be very interested, but others will help you as much as they can. It is also important not to give the impression that you have a chip on your shoulder, while any recruiter could tell you of the many unfortunate instances where a candidate has attempted to brush off bad grades with spurious sob stories. 

You may also need to provide some kind of verification of what happened in the form of, for example, a doctor’s letter or a supporting letter from your university, college or school. It will also be important to demonstrate that in ‘normal’ circumstances you achieve good grades and are the kind of bright, keen person to pursue legal work experience – extenuating circumstances can explain a bad exam or a bad year, but the usual rules apply in that firms are only interested in engaged, hardworking people who they think will make good lawyers.

Finally, remember that you can always contact the LCN Oracle at oracle@lawcareers.net for more tailored advice regarding your own specific circumstances.